In my senior year of high school, I heard those dreaded words during my dental cleaning that no child ever wants to here:
"Looks like you're going to need braces!"
Perhaps for a kid who wants those special glow-in-the-dark bands or who wants to have an orange and black mouth for Halloween, getting braces doesn't seem so bad. I mean, everyone has braces in middle school, anyway. It almost adds to your popularity status if you have them, really.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for me when I was referred to an orthodontist. As a seventeen-year-old who already looks pretty young for my age (and by young, I mean twelve on a good day), I was not too excited to get a fresh set of metal. I always knew my teeth were a problem, my siblings made fun of my squirrel-esque buck teeth for the majority of my life. A professional had never brought it up to me before, though, so I assumed it wasn't severe enough to harm my health.
After my first appointment, I learned this was not true. Apparently, my overbite was so extreme that it was placing enough pressure on my back teeth to significantly wear them down. If I did not get braces, I would most likely have to get fake teeth before I turned thirty (not to mention the jaw pain that could come from the long-term pressure).
So, almost halfway through my senior year, I received a fresh set of metal plastered on my top jaw. Fortunately (or, unfortunately), I had over the "twenty-four point" limit, meaning that more than twenty-four of my teeth were negatively impacted by my malocclusion, so my braces were not added onto my college tuition expenses.
When the orthodontist placed them on, she asked how old I was. I told her seventeen, about to go to college soon, to which she responded,
"I'm pretty sure you'll have them off before you graduate college, then!" Great.
For a few months, it wasn't so bad. Of course, they were uncomfortable, and it did seem a little unfair that while most of my friends were picking out colors for their corsages for prom, I had to figure out which color my bands should be to match my dress.
When I decided to go out of state for college, I realized that I was going to have to figure out what to do about my metal mouth. I had to find a new orthodontist willing to work on my teeth, but I was pretty sure I was not going to find someone who would accept my insurance. Part of me thought I should just take them off altogether, live with the pain and get dentures for my thirtieth birthday. But, I now had huge gaps towards the front of my smile since I had my canines removed to eliminate potential crowding once my teeth shifted, and I did not want to look like a jack-o-lantern for my first college Halloween party.
After consulting with multiple orthodontists in my new home, I knew this was going to be more difficult than I originally imagined. Not only would I have to now pay out of pocket, but my teeth were actually worse off than they were before I got braces. Apparently, my past orthodontist did not correctly put on my brackets, resulting in some rotation among my molars (at least I think this was the case, it's hard to decipher an orthodontist's vocabulary). My three-year journey with my braces was now more of an extended expedition. My past orthodontist's prediction that I could get my braces removed before my twenty-first birthday became more of a fantasy.
Obviously, it's not an ideal situation to have braces in college. Working around the schedules of both an orthodontist as well as my own as a busy college student (who is also employed in order to pay for the braces in the first place) is not the easiest task. It usually means appointments prior to seven in the morning in hopes that I can make it to class on time, but a five-dollar coffee to survive the rest of the day is a luxury that will have to wait until after the metal is removed.
At the end of the day, though, I know this is best for my health and my overall confidence. My insecurities over my teeth have always kept me from smiling in photos, from feeling comfortable almost every time I open my mouth to speak. I look forward to the day I can smile with pride, even if it means my smile will be snapped shut by rubber bands for a few more years.
And, on the bright side, I won't have dentures by the time I'm thirty. Let's just hope I won't have braces by then, either!
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